Category Archives: Rants and Raves

A collection of opinions on topics that apply to the fantasy genre.

Apologies for the Cat

ConfuciusFor the record, I am not politically correct. In fact, I have a very strong urge to do the exact opposite of what the politically correct say I should do. That said, I used to be a Platonist and was against the mocking of other people’s religion. The constructive criticism of such was okay as long as it was done politely and with decorum, but the attempt to “shout down with laughter” I thought to be a very unsound and distasteful approach in the etiquette of argument. And yet, a few weeks/months ago (5/28/16 to be precise), through the personage of my cat, Confucius, I mocked a certain Sheikh Saleh Bin Fawzan Al-Fazwan for trying to ban people from taking pictures with cats. He believed that people who took pictures with cats were becoming “too Western.” In response, I ridiculed him here. Now, the Platonist in me (and the Christian, as well) feel obliged to offer the Sheik an apology. So, I apologize to Sheik Saleh Bin Fawzan Al-Fazwan—although I’m sure he has no idea I exist. I should not have mocked him and, by extension, even Mohammed and Islam. It was poor taste on my part. Sorry.

Anyway, in my opinion, banning pictures with cats seems very odd. If you want to make it some kind of religious tenet, I suppose you can, but it seems kind of a trivial thing to me. Kind of on the level of not eating meat on Fridays in Lent according to my own Faith (Catholicism). I was always of the mind that how you treated other people was paramount. Ritual was just ritual, and not of major consequence. Kind of: “I desire love, not sacrifice.” God wants us to love Him and each other, not get lost in the minutiae of religious rules and strictures. The older, wiser me realizes that some people get very upset if their rituals are infringed upon.  Anyway, I think the more pressing problem for Islam is the segment of its practitioners who are going around killing everyone and everything they can. I think the Sheik and his religion would be better served if he addressed that problem and not the current celebrity status of cats. I am free to criticize the loons of Isis all I want, but they probably won’t listen to me, as I am an outsider. Indeed, they probably won’t listen to the Sheik either. But potential recruits? There the Sheik might have a more substantial impact. Muslim youths would surely listen to him far sooner than they would me. And he could do so much good, if he directed his energies there.

Confucius Speaks

ConfuciusMeow. Time for another politically incorrect post.

It has reached my feline ears that a certain Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia by the name of Sheikh Saleh Bin Fawzan Al-Fazwan has banned people from taking pictures with cats. Don’t believe me? Although it is beneath the celestial dignity of a feline like myself to make false claims or be forced to support my claims for verification, I’ll present the following evidence anyway: http://maudmanyore.com/2016/05/saudi-arabian-cleric-bans-people-from-taking-pictures-with-cats.html and http://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/story_medium/public/thumbnails/image/2016/05/26/17/saudi-cats2.jpg and … well, google it. See? I told you so.

The Sheikh claims the ban on such pictures is an attempt to keep people from becoming “too Western.” Clearly, he is a Westernaphobe as well as a felinaphobe. Pesky Muslim Sheikh. Although perhaps I should take the whole business as a compliment: visual expressions of Mohammed are condemned as blasphemy in the Muslim world; is the Sheikh trying to make a similar connection with cats? If so, I fear I must correct the record: us, cats, are not major religious/political leaders in this world. We certainly don’t deserve the status of a Mohammed or a Jesus or a Buddha for our efforts and achievements in our earthly lives. If the truth be known, we could earn such, if we wanted to, we just prefer to spend our time having our chins rubbed and that place behind our ears scratched.

I hope that does not earn me a fatwa. If so, I’ll have to respond with a meowtwa.

I’ve Got It: My Next Novel Will Feature …

This might be a bad idea from a politically correct point-of-view; I might make myself into a pariah by posting this. But I’m not politically correct. If the truth be told, I can’t stand the whole movement. I get it: if there’s a man standing next to me in a dress, that’s no cause to beat him senseless or publicly ridicule him. But I still think it’s a little weird. And I think I’m within my rights to raise an eyebrow. Sorry.

 

I find it amusing as I hop from ezine to ezine and peruse the wish lists of the respective editors. A whole bunch of them are looking for LGBTQ (or whatever) literature and all sorts of variants on that theme. Basically, the characters in our stories are getting stranger and stranger, more and more removed from “normal” (if there is such a thing–the PC movement denies that there is; I’m not so sure). I suppose that’s natural as a perfectly “normal” character would probably be boring. But it seems to me that it is possible to get lost in the weeds of details, striving to make your character so unique it becomes its own bizarre amalgamation of traits and randomness; a string of characteristics that mock the whole notion of character.

 

So, in light of the vast PC wisdom, and the muse that inspires me, my next novel will feature …

a cis-gendered Hispanic male albino lesbian with a penchant for Cheerios and heavy metal music. His love interest, of course, will be a trans-gendered female weightlifting Sumo wrestler from Alpha Centauri with seven fingers on her right hand and an extra row of teeth; she suffers from psoriasis.

 

I should apologize for that. Maybe I can make it good by claiming they are both hobgoblins. Am I allowed to tease hobgoblins? Or are they off-limits, too?

 

Confucius Speaks

Confucius            Mr. Matthew Ryan, my presumptive owner, is all broken up over the results of the Republican primary over the past week. Being a cat, I am not as delicate as the feeble human, so I will be filling in this entry for him while he pays homage to the porcelain god sans alcohol.

I, too, am utterly flabbergasted that Mr. Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican ticket. I mean, seriously? I’m only a cat but I don’t really remember him giving much more than the occasional clever insult or nickname to his opponents. Policy matters were completely out of the discussion.

Well, the primary is all but over, and it looks like we are going to have a choice between Trump and Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, courtesy of her e-mail scandal, belongs in prison. Mr. Trump courtesy of, well, just being himself, belongs in a psych ward (is that the correct spelling of ‘psych’?). A potential prison inmate or a mental case; that is America’s choice. Congratulations! And you humans wonder why us cats think we are superior?

So, on to the meat of the matter. I believe it is time I made a proper endorsement. And given the options, I hereby fervently endorse … Ted Cruz for President. I know he dropped out, but perhaps we can start a movement to see how many people can write in his name at the ballot box. Our country needs a good strong conservative. Otherwise, we’ll go the way of Venezuela and run out of milk and other necessities … like cat litter, litter boxes, and everything else in between. It would be a travesty, a travesty if that happened!

Vote Cruz 2016. Join the Movement!

Okay, there is also the Libertarian Party. Vote Austin Peterson 2016!

From the Gamer’s File: The Invisible Maze Trap

Imagine, if you would, your brave party of adventurers enters a one hundred foot by one hundred foot square room. It appears to be empty. As your party looks across the empty space, a door on the far side opens and a minotaur in plate mail (because if you’re going to use a minotaur to intimidate a party, you might as well put him in plate mail 🙂 ) walks through. While you watch in fear, the minotaur takes a step forward and taps his axe on the floor in front of him. Immediately, a ten foot by ten foot square on the floor swings down like a trap door and then swings back up. The minotaur turns to his right, taps the floor with his axe and nothing happens. He moves to the right. The warrior in your group draws his sword and charges. He only goes ten feet before a ten foot by ten foot section of the floor swings down like a trap door, dumping him in a pit of acid below. You can hear his screams through the floor. Do you understand what’s going on? Can you outwit the trap?

 

I used this trap on one of my gaming groups many years ago. It was actually inspired by an encounter in another DM’s game where I misinterpreted the use of a cube of force in AD&D. In any event, my gaming group never did figure out what was going on. They managed to cross the room and I think they may have dumped the minotaur in the acid himself (which is a weakness of the trap), but they never fully grasped the concept. It was an invisible maze.

 

Basically, as a DM I had a map of the room. On that map, the one hundred foot by one hundred foot room was represented by a drawing of a ten square by ten square room where each square represented a ten foot by ten foot square. That’s a little confusing, but it’s basically how most DM maps work. Anyway, on the map I had drawn a maze where every wall in the maze was drawn on a line separating two squares on the map. They were never drawn across the square, only on one or more of its borders. So the maze was there, but it was invisible. Whenever the plane of a “wall” in the maze was broken, that activated the trap door that dropped whatever had entered the square into the pit of acid below. I was kind with the acid. There was an exit down below so that the characters could crawl out of the acid and return back up to the maze atop. So, basically, if you crossed a wall, you fell into the acid. If you moved diagonally between two squares, you fell into the acid. The only way through the maze was to “find” the correct pathway through the walls. Like I said above, there is a flaw in this trap. Basically, when the minotaur got too close to the party, if I recall correctly, they just tapped his square and dumped the minotaur into the acid. I’m not sure if I permitted that to work or not. I don’t remember.

 

Anyway, the party never did figure out what the trap was or quite how it worked. They got through it, but it was largely from dumb luck, if I recall. This trap remains one of my favorite self-designed D&D traps of all time. I’m quite proud of this one.

 

Odin Speaks: The Legend versus the Myth

Arf. I am Odin. When I speak, you listen, for I am all-knowing and wise.

OdinOnce again, I stumbled across a curious fact while reading some of my more unconventional fare (more specifically, while I was reading a couple books on Atlantis). Apparently, there is a distinction between a legend and a myth. Both are stories, of a sort. A Legend is based on some historical fact; it contains some kernel of truth; however, whatever truth it contains has been buried by an avalanche of distortion and historical debris that has been produced by the many intervening years between the telling of its story and the events that inspired it. A decent example of a Legend is the Legend of Atlantis, told by Plato. A number of the details of the story have been confirmed (specifically a handful of Athenian details), so it seems that some of the story is based on a truth that has been obscured by time.

In contrast to the Legend is the Myth. A myth is also a story concerning events from the deepest mists of time. However, a myth usually involves the activities of some supernatural force: like a hero, demigod, or god. They are heavily filled with symbols and interpretative meaning, but they were never intended to be taken as factual. For example, the Greek Myth of Phaethon’s disastrous attempt to drive the sun god Apollo’s chariot is an excellent example of a myth.

The skeptical lune lurking inside me, however, is not so sure that that distinction can be easily verified. Are we sure Phaethon’s chariot ride is just symbolic? It could (if we stretch the bounds of credulity) involve some half-alien hybrid who got a turn riding his father’s spaceship. That’s not likely, but it’s possible (that’s the problem with having a training in philosophy: just about anything goes—except contradictions—or, alternatively, nothing goes; it’s usually one or the other: Will the sun rise tomorrow? The scientist says, “Of course it will.” The philosopher says, “I don’t know.” It’s the difference between deductive logic, and inductive reasoning. Certainty and probability.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts for today. Woof.

Fantasy and Demons

BBT_TourBanner_FromTheAshesOfRuin

A ways back, I wrote an article for my newsletter (sign up here, if you are interested in receiving future mailings of my newsletter) dealing with demons. It was a light-hearted foray into a potentially serious subject. I say ‘serious’ because I’m not entirely certain if real-life demons are fiction or reality. Those familiar with my life story might know that I suffer from a psychological disorder and a delusion that revolves around demons. So, forgive me if I take them more seriously than you might be inclined to.

 

Anyway, most of the different religious sects across the globe believe (or at least through much of their history did believe) in demons. They developed various rites to exorcise demons from possessed people (that is drive them out). I’ve never studied demon lore and I have no idea how to perform such an exorcism. I just want to point out that there may be a ‘demon phenomenon’ whose underlying reality is markedly different from what the religious believe it to be.

 

According to the religious a demon is a spirit or entity that can harass or even possess (that is, take over) a regular human being. When this happens, a priest or even witch doctor is needed to drive the demon out. However, in this modern age the whole concept of a demon seems kind of archaic, a throwback to primitive times. Nowadays, most psychiatrists and medical doctors would attribute demonic activity to psychological disorders. Even things like uncontrolled telekinesis and other such phenomena could be explained if we allow that the brain is hideously complex; it might be responsible for such activity at an unconscious level.

 

Anyway, back to my original point. I am a fantasy author. And I write about demons. However, I will be the first to admit that I did not do massive amounts of research on the subject of ‘real’ demons existing here on Earth. What I “know” of demons I’ve gathered from a miscellany of sources throughout my younger reading years: I’ve been influenced by AD&D, my Catholic upbringing, and other sources, but I never seriously studied the subject under the auspices of the aforementioned Catholic Church. So, basically, I may have made mistakes in my so-called demonic lore.

 

And I have no intention of trying to fix those.

 

If there is any truth to demon lore, I don’t want to inadvertently give a recipe for someone to try to summon a demon in real life. Hence, the lore in my novels is basically misinformation. I’ve heard this or that where wizards would use salt (I incorporated that bit a little in my latest book) or some other detail, but all the details and information are summoned mostly from my imagination. If you try a ritual detailed in my book, be assured: it won’t work—even if demons are real and not figments of the imaginations of disturbed people; you need more than a circle cut in stone to summon them. Also, in my book, all the demonologists are evil, and the rituals described are likewise evil. After all, in my mythical fantasy universe summoning demons requires a blood sacrifice. Don’t do that in real life. If it’s an animal, it’s unnecessary, cruel and very uncool. If it’s a human, it’s murder, no ifs, ands, or buts. Not that I’d really expect someone to re-enact something they read in a fantasy book. But I had to write about something today; so, I chose this.

 

That’s all I wanted to say today.

 

Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?

This post has little to do with fantasy literature, per se. At least not directly. The connection is that the story of Atlantis is kind of fantastical.

 

The story of Atlantis comes to us from Plato, specifically from his dialogue The Timaeus. I never studied that one in college. I’ve read bits and pieces of it—mostly the stuff about the demi-urge and such. Anyway, within the dialogue we are given the legend of Atlantis in which Plato tells of an ancient advanced civilization that was wiped out in a cataclysm of some sort—earthquakes and floods, basically—which not only destroyed the Atlantean civilization in its entirety, but devastated the Athenian nation as well. Plato provides a number of details about the Atlantean civilization which I will not go into here. I will say, having read several books on the subject now, that I believe the Atlantean Legend is based on a real nation-state that once existed. Exactly where it was, though, I have no idea. It could have been somewhere in the Mediterranean, somewhere along the North African coast, somewhere along the Spanish coast, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, or even in Antartica.

 

However, I would like to distinguish here between Plato’s Atlantis and the New Age Atlantis. Plato’s Atlantis is the Atlantis of which he wrote. It may have been a technologically advanced nation, but only a technologically advanced nation relative to its time. Perhaps Plato’s Atlanteans mapped South and North America; perhaps they knew of Antartica; but they did NOT fly around in planes, nor did they develop a space program based on crystals or something like that. Why do I say this? Because according to the Platonic Legend, the Atlanteans were at war with the Athenians, and the Athenians won said war. If the Atlanteans were so advanced they were flying around in planes, they would have mopped the floor with the primitive Athenians. And they didn’t. They lost. No super-technology for you.

 

The New Age Atlantis is the term I would use to refer to some ancient culture that may have existed in ages past with technology on par with or perhaps even exceeding our own. Plato’s Atlantis provides no support to such a theory. Such an Atlantis may have existed, but we must look elsewhere for evidence (we only refer to it as Atlantis for romantic reasons for surely it was called something else during its times). Things like the Nazca lines in South America, or those tiny golden airplanes that were found, again in South America. A New Age Atlantis would require a global catastrophe to wipe out and reset the humans of this planet back to the beginnings of the Stone Age. Such an event is possible but, at first blush, appears kind of loony. That said, perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of Ancient Aliens, because I’ve grown convinced that there was either a New Age Atlantis-like civilization in our past or we actually were being visited by aliens as far back as our prehistory. The evidence presented on Ancient Aliens is (sometimes) quite compelling.

The Art of Writing: Brainstorming

So, you want to write your next big novel or short story. The first step (at least it is for me) is to brainstorm your story. Jot down all you can about your story. Start with the characters: the people around which the story revolves. Who is the main character? What characteristics define them? What are their goals? Is there a love interest? Do the same for him or her. Flesh them out. Once you have your characters straight, you can work on the plot of the story. What’s the conflict? What drives the tension? What is the story arc? Every story must have a beginning, middle, and end. Differentiate between such things here while you’re brainstorming. Don’t get upset if it’s still a little muddled, or even if you have more than one exclusive storyline in mind. You’ll straighten it out by the time you’re done. Brainstorming, as we were all taught in school, is just about stirring the pot of ideas. Write down everything you can think of. Every little detail. It doesn’t matter how small, nor does it even matter if it contradicts something you’ve already written down. Just get ideas on paper.

 

When are you done? Well, it depends on the length of the work in question. If it’s just a short story, you’re probably done when you have delineated the main characters and fleshed out the plotline. Then, you can start writing. If it’s a novel, you have to do the same type of work, but the details can be a little less clear. Many novelists change things or add things halfway through their work. Don’t feel boxed in because you’ve already brainstormed a path for your novel. Leave yourself some flexibility; it’s all part of the creative process.

 

Once you are done brainstorming your ideas, the next step is to outline your story. Of course, all of this is moot if you are a “pantser.” That is, a writer that writes by the seat of their pants. They kind of brainstorm as they go along. I used to be like that, but no more. Now I plot things out. Must be my old age, I guess. 🙂

 

Confucius Speaks

First, the important stuff: I am deeply offended that I was ‘upstaged’ by a Goodreads Giveaway Announcement last week. We all know cats are more important than selling books. Jeez! Now, on to the rebuttal of my whining human’s complaints:

My human clearly is not cut out to write. He can’t take the pressure. Afraid of a little bit of competition from Amazon. Hah! Boo hoo! It’s not like they have a complete monopoly on milk. I mean, that would be a travesty. Milk! Yum yum. Meeow. A few books here. A few books there. And he’s complaining because he’s not making any money at it. You have to have gumption to write! Nerve. And tenacity. It takes persistence and more persistence. I know. Back when I was being worshiped in Egypt, so many eons ago, I wrote a book in hieroglyphs. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: The Book of the Dead. Yes, I am the font of ancient Egypt lore. Because I’m a cat. And we know things. Most specifically we know that the human race will know no peace until we are worshiped once again as gods. And fed. Regularly. And have our ears rubbed. Just the way we like it.

Get your priorities straight Mr. Ryan. And get me some cat treats!